Evolution and Atheism


(Emily) #1

Seems like some YECs think that if you accept Evolution, you’re automatically an atheist. -_- another false dichotomy. How did it come about? Is there anything Christians can do to reverse this?


(Jay Nelsestuen) #2

From what I’ve read, it’s because evolution appears to push God out of the picture in creation. Natural selection acting on random mutations appears to them to be godless. A lot of YECs push the natural/supernatural distinction too far; that distinction has its merits, but biblically speaking, it is non-existent. A high view of God’s Providence demands that we realize that the natural world is ruled over and sustained and superintended by God, who is supernatural.

Further, many folks are still under the impression that Darwin and others were out to explain life on earth without God. While that may be partly true, they did not achieve that goal, if it is true that God is sovereign and providential. In short, much of it has to do with category errors.


(Lynn Munter) #3

I think it probably comes from the old quote about evolution making atheism intellectually respectable. It meant that it was no longer sufficient to lean on God-of-the-Gaps reasoning, pointing to things and saying, I can’t think of any other explanation for this to exist, so God must have made it.

People who had relied on that kind of argument for God felt, and perhaps still feel, that the rug is being pulled out from under them. Religion functions as a conservative force within culture. Responsible religious leaders must carefully evaluate new ideas for soundness. In an ideal world, religion should function to care for the social fabric that binds all humans together, something which science, with its nuts-and-bolts approach to everything, is lightyears away from understanding.

But it means that change is necessary. Easy but wrong reasoning that may have crept in, like God-of-the-Gaps, must be recognized and dealt with. And like all humans, it’s tempting to poke holes in others’ arguments rather than examine our own.

I recall a YouTuber saying in one of his videos (I wish I could find it again) that he started reading pro-evolution scientific material because he’d read all of the creationist material on the subject, over the past fifteen years or so. He figured it would take him some years, but it wasn’t until he started getting into it that he realized there was more material than he would be able to read in multiple lifetimes. He was totally unprepared for the level of detail and meticulous thought that had gone into the subject on so many fronts.

Similarly, it can be difficult for someone unfamiliar with religious history to absorb the massive body of scholarship that is there. Many very intelligent people have written a lot of very carefully considered and researched things over the centuries, and I barely know what any of it consists of, but I think many other people barely know it’s there.

If there’s any solution, it’s just not to let trite or ill-considered arguments gain ground, wherever they appear. And you don’t do that by shouting them down, you have to teach people to be better than they were.


(Stephen Matheson) #4

Here are a few thoughts, not sure I’m really addressing your question though.

When I was a Christian biology professor I had the privilege/burden of meeting people (mostly students) who had lost their faith because of evolution. None of these people (total number about 20) ever mentioned theology when they talked about what happened. They didn’t say “I became an atheist because evolution is true and that rules out god.” What they said was some version of this: “My whole life they told me evolution was false. Then I realized it is true. And I wondered what else they lied to me about.”

It is true that scientifically accurate narratives of natural history undermine certain versions of certain biblical/theological narratives (Adam & Eve, the fall, the flood). That by itself is only a threat to biblicism, and not to Christian faith itself. And it is true by definition that natural explanation weakens or supplants supernatural explanation, for any particular event or phenomenon. I think that @AdCaelumEo and others are saying that this should have little or nothing to do with faith, and I agree in principle. But in practice, it is a fact that a faith based on the age of the earth or lineal descent of humanity from a single pair of Babylonians is a faith at risk in the presence of scientific evidence. And a lot of energy is expended convincing large groups of Christianity that their faith is endangered by scientific evidence of those and other sorts.

IMO, the biggest threat posed to Christian faith by evolution is its ability to reveal dysfunction and dishonesty on very large scales within Christendom. It’s not all sectors of the faith, not hardly. But it’s a vast problem, and BL knows it.


(Jay Nelsestuen) #5

Interesting thought, that. Certainly, YECs are well-meaning people. There are some who do not intentionally misrepresent. But then there are others who do…and it all becomes a mess.

I was fortunate, in that I experienced quite a bit of cognitive dissonance after being exposed to evolution and the idea that Genesis 1 ought not be considered a straightforward journalistic account of the world’s origins, but did not lose my faith. God’s existence has always been a no-brainer (pun half-intended). I didn’t think I had been lied to, per se, but I had realized that what they were telling me was wrong in the face of evidence. I believe them when they tell me that they’re simply trying to fit the evidence into a different set of presuppositions. I just think they’re wrong and extremely misguided to do so.

You can hardly blame them; for much of Christian history, the earth and universe was believed by Christians to be 6,000 or so years old. Wanting to hold on to traditions is not so much a bad thing as it is an unnecessary thing, especially when new evidence comes to light.


(Stephen Matheson) #6

I think I would go further and say that among people who hold YEC beliefs, very few intentionally misrepresent. Among active apologists and leaders of YEC organizations or movements, I suspect the ratio is much higher. But even then, there are too many confounding factors rooted in normal human psychology and sociology.

The problem for me, back in the day, was that the dysfunction (or we can call it dishonesty) revealed system-level problems that started to look like evil (in the sense of a force that hurts or degrades people or the world at large). I could tell myself that the tens of millions who assert YECism were not bad people, but it was a completely different matter to ask why the “Body of Christ” was so deeply susceptible to falsehood. Another story there.


(Phil) #7

Not to wander too far from the subject, but that is also something I see that in bothersome in the health care field. Seems that fundamentalist Christians are fertile ground for the sale of bogus diets, supplements and medical treatment. Perhaps that is because of the acceptance of the unexplained in faith matters transfers over.


#8

That is exactly what I heard from ex-YECs/ex-Christians as well when I was still teaching. The loss of trust was the fundamental issue. The fact that it was usually a sacred trust cultivated in childhood makes it far more wounding when discovered the falsehood that it was. As little children we are vulnerable and we depend upon trusted adults to steer us away from harm and towards truth.

I didn’t lose my faith when I discovered that the “creation science” movement (and the leaders I trusted, especially Drs. Morris, Whitcomb, and Gish) but it created a huge shock for me and I had to re-evaluable lots of ideas I had taken for granted. I had assumed that prayerful men who shared my Biblical doctrines would be protected from egregious error by the indwelling Holy Spirit. But when I discovered just how much they had dishonestly quote-mined and misrepresented the science, that was a huge shock to my core. I have several colleagues of a generation younger who attended the same or similar “creation conferences” and they saw (just as I did) these men confronted with corrections to citation errors and misrepresentations in their books. We saw them promise “Yes, that is not really accurate. It will be corrected in the next edition of my book.” But at another conference a month later, the speaker would repeat the same falsehood, knowing full well that it was untrue. (Of course, the next edition of his book didn’t address the error. It was an idle promise.) That is when many of us realized that the lying was deliberate. One colleague even directly challenged the author back stage at an event, and rather than addressing his own duplicitousness, that “pillar” of the Young Earth Creationist world lashed back at time, “Don’t you think evolutionists lie all the time? I don’t see you complaining any about them! Whose side are you on?”

Indeed. That is basically what it is for some: a battle over sides where the details are entirely secondary. So a claim is used if it is effective with an audience, and whether or not it is true is not the main issue.

I suppose most Christians face a crisis at some point when a trusted pastor or Sunday School teacher proves to be very human and a sinner. But when someone makes a living out of continuous, unrepentant dishonesty—even while calling everyone who disagrees with them a “compromising Christian”—that is bound to be very hard on anyone who tries to make sense of it all. Indeed, all of us who have been in professional ministry will eventually have to wrestle with the ubiquity of sin in big ministry (and little ministry.)

I just think that the bigger the ministry and the greater the money and influence, there is more incentive and pressure to do things in extremes. It seems to amplify human foibles and sin.


(Lynn Munter) #9

I am even more convinced now than when I saw @jpm touch on the subject earlier, that Santa Claus teaches us a valuable lesson when we are still small, that not everything people we care about say is true.


(Jay Nelsestuen) #10

Fairy tales are good for people. Gives them brains and imaginations. Even the Sheologians recognized this: http://sheologians.com/double-double-toil-causing-trouble/.


#11

The whole Santa Claus deception never bothered me as a child because to me it was obvious that adults talking about Santa Claus would always go into their “goofy mode”—the kind of voice and exaggerated facial expressions (all obviously forced) that seemed to make obvious that it was a “once upon a time” story. On the other hand, everything at church was in a far more straightforward and “natural” presentation. So I never had the same kind of skepticism of things I learned at church versus what I heard everywhere else about Santa Claus.

Yet, I do know that some children grew up feeling very deceived about Santa Claus.

Personally speaking, I never misled my children or grandchildren about Santa Claus. It was more of a “tall tale” game, similar to Paul Bunyan stories and other traditional stories. I always felt like children can enjoy fun stories without being fooled by them. [By the way, if I recall, Paul Bunyan stories are quite atypical of “traditional tales” in that I think they started out as an advertising promotion for a timber company.]

All of this makes me think about the folklore courses I had in grad school long ago. There are many ways in which an “everybody knows that…” story can enter into a people group. Lately I’ve been thinking about how even one or a few people (think Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, et al) can convince millions of people that relatively new ideas are “ancient truths.”

For example, Ken Ham has convinced a lot of Christians that Job 40 was “obviously” the author’s observations of a dinosaur. So I’ve talked to many Christians who are certain that BEHEMOTH=DINOSAUR, even though Ham has to do a lot of cherry-picking and misrepresentation of the text to somehow arrive at a theropod dinosaur. (And this is despite the fact that Hebrew scholars for centuries have identified the creature as either an elephant or other large living mammal.)

Similarly, once the Ark Encounter opens its upcoming “Antediluvian giants vs dinosaurs” gladiatorial exhibit, I wonder if that bizarre imaginary amphitheater spectacle will become a commonly assumed meme of the Noah’s Ark story in Bible Belt culture. The development of folklore has changed a lot in modern times.

How does this related to “Evolution & Atheism”? Among other things, I think it fascinating how many “everybody knows that” concepts get overlaid in what have become “classic debates.” For example, in the “folklore” of the “Evolution & Atheism” topic, Young Earth Creationists tend to associate The Big Bang Theory and abiogenesis, even though they are irrelevant to both. Yet, it doesn’t really matter that they are unrelated to the topic. Millions of people are convinced that they are. And, as a result, it even illustrates the kind of information about a culture which a Bible translator must understand in order to avoid a wording that triggers wrong interpretations.

It makes my brain hurt.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #12

I may have my names wrong here since I don’t have the book handy to double-check. But I believe it was Ken Miller writing about a one-on-one encounter he had with one of the YEC giants (I think it might have been Morris) at a cafe after having faced him in a public debate. He teasingly asked Morris if he really believed some particularly outrageous claim Morris had made in the debate, half expecting that Morris would wink and privately admit otherwise. Instead the other looked back in grave seriousness and chided the other with “I don’t think you realize what’s at stake in all this!” (or words to that effect).

If you’ve convinced yourself that a whole generation’s salvation is on the line, you may begin to succumb to an “ends-justify-the-means” mode of operation. Then everything gets colored by that lens.


#13

I got the very same impression with Dr. Gish.

Frankly, the older I’ve gotten, the more fearful I have become of the mind’s susceptibility to self-deception. I’ve seen even some outstanding people get carried away in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible. This is especially true when a ministry grows rapidly, many comes in easily, and everybody is gushing at your feet about how wonderful and godly you are. It is our human condition. I am convinced that one of the worst things which can ever happen to a person in ministry is great “success.”

P.S. It is SO easy to assume “Everything is falling into place. Therefore, that shows that God approves of what I’m doing and is blessing me.” That is one of the greatest dangers of something like the $150 million coming together for the Ark Encounter. That alone has convinced many that AIG is “right” about everything. They don’t pause to consider that the Mormon Church has “prospered” to the tune of millions of dollars. Does that prove God’s approval and blessing? Yet, it is a very common assumption.


(Larry Bunce) #14

A book published in 1874 by Charles Hodge, “What Is Darwinism?” equated Darwinism to Atheism, so the association goes back a long time, Hodge was Principal at the Princeton Theological Seminary from 1851 to 1878, and a leading conservative Calvinist voice of the time.

For all his conservatism, Hodge accepted geologic evidence for an old earth, and made a fairly modern statement in his “Systematic Theology:”
“It is admitted that theologians are not infallible in the interpretation of Scripture. It may, therefore, happen in the future, as it has in the past, that interpretations of the Bible, long confidently received, must be modified or abandoned to bring revelation into harmony with what God teaches in his works. This change of view as to the true meaning of the Bible may be a painful trial to the Church, but it does not in the least impair the authority of the Scriptures. They remain infallible; we are merely convicted of having mistaken their meaning…” (Pg. 58)